1. Green Bay (14-1). The Pack's been held under 21 points once in the last 19 games. You're going to have to score in the 30s to have a chance against them in January ... unless you're the Niners. Then you might be able to win by scoring 24.
2. New Orleans (11-3). Drew Brees is 305 yards from breaking Dan Marino's 27-year-old record for passing yards in a season. And the Saints are still breathing for the second seed in the NFC.
3. New England (12-3). In a season of adversity -- the latest being the offensive line being strafed with injuries -- the Patriots have performed like champions.
4. San Francisco (12-3). Two huge wins in five days, first the beatdown of the Steelers at home, then, on a short week at very tough Seattle (the Seahawks had won three straight by a total of 58 points). The Niners stayed in control of a first-round playoff bye and the second seed in the NFC playoffs.
5. Detroit (10-5). Routing the Chargers 38-10 when San Diego was playing for its playoff life ... pretty impressive. The Detroit secondary is proving a lot of folks, me included, dead wrong right now. Clinging, aggressive coverage.
6. Baltimore (11-4). Get a sense there's something missing in the offense? I mean, 284 yards against Cleveland, and three points in the last 35 minutes?
7. Pittsburgh (11-4). Ben sat five days after he should have.
8. Atlanta (9-5). How likely is it the Falcons go 2-0 and the red-hot Saints 0-2 in the next week? Not very. That's the only way Atlanta can win the NFC South. But the one prayer if the Falcons take care of business tonight is that they finish with the Lake Woebegone Buccaneers, while the Saints have to vanquish Cam Newton in the finale. Not easy.
9. New York Giants (8-7). Amazing that I'm putting a team with a 4-7 conference record and a bad running game this high. But it's a weird year. And who else belongs here?
10. Philadelphia (7-8). Won the last three by 55 (assist to Steven McGee). Held each of their last three foes under 300 yards. The Eagles don't deserve to make the playoffs, but that doesn't mean they couldn't have gotten on a roll in them.
11. Dallas (8-7). Good thing Philly's out of the playoffs. Eagles 54, Cowboys 14 this year.
12. Cincinnati (9-6). I just realized that if the Bengals can survive Week 17 against the Ravens and make the playoffs, they'd be going to Houston. Imagine the Bengals in the NFL's final eight this year. Do-able.
13. Carolina (6-9). They've won four of the last five, and even though two came against the (counterfeit) Bucs, this is one steamrolling offense right now.
14. Houston (10-5). In five days, they went from a playoff factor to a playoff speedbump. Losses to Carolina and Indy (with those three Orlovskian scoring drives in the last 20 minutes) make me wonder about their defense as much as their quarterback.
15. Denver (8-7). I guess.
Offensive Players of the Week
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. Start of the Sunday-nighter: Rodgers to Tom Crabtree for seven, Rodgers to Jordy Nelson for zero, Rodgers to Jermichael Finley for 11. Rodgers to Ryan Grant for 32, then for two, Rodgers to Nelson for 16, Rodgers to Finley for seven, and, for the touchdown, Rodgers to Finley for two. Pack, 7-0, five minutes in. Rodgers, 8 for 8 for 77 yards. After 37 minutes, Rodgers had three touchdown passes against a defense that has continually vexed him. Cliché word of the night, but altogether true: clockwork.
New York Giants WR Victor Cruz. Twenty-eight minutes into the game they had to have, the Giants trailed the Jets 7-3 and could get nothing going. They had a third-and-10 from their own 1-yard line, and were on the verge of having to punt out of their end zone and give the Jets a short field to get points before the half. "We wanted to call something to have a shot to get the first down, but get the ball out of my hands pretty quickly when you're backed up in your own end zone,'' Eli Manning said. "I threw it to him and it was going to be close if we got the first down or not.'' Him being Cruz. "I was just kind of hoping that he could maybe fall forward to get the first down in that situation.'' But he made three Jets miss -- two at the 11 and safety Eric Smith far downfield. Cruz cruised for a 99-yard touchdown, and the Giants never trailed after that. For the game, Cruz caught three balls for 164 yards, and he set up the eventual game-winning TD with a 36-yard catch and run from Manning.
Indianapolis QB Dan Orlovsky. For the first 40 minutes of what appeared to be the Colts' 14th loss of the year, Orlovsky led Indy to two field goals, and a whole lot of nothing else. But in his last three drives of the game against a top-five NFL defense, the Colts drove 51 yards to a field goal, 67 yards to a field goal, and 78 yards (in 91 seconds, with no timeouts) to the winning touchdown, a one-yard flip to Reggie Wayne. There were better Week 16 quarterback numbers (23 of 41, 244 yards, one touchdown, no picks), and Colts fans everywhere were blanching to see Indy threaten to blow the first pick in the 2012 draft, but that's not Orlovsky's concern. He made play after play when a game was on the line, and he beat his old team with a superb final 20 minutes.
Defensive Player of the Week
New England LB Jerod Mayo. Days after signing a rich contract extension, Mayo showed the Patriots they were smart holiday shoppers. He had 13 tackles and two sacks in New England's 27-24 win over Miami. It was his second sack that helped the Patriots clinch the game. With eight minutes left and New England nursing a 20-17 lead, Mayo sacked Matt Moore and forced a Miami punt. The Pats scored on the ensuing drive, wrapping up the win.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Oakland DT Richard Seymour. Quite simply, Seymour saved the Oakland season, and preserved the Raiders' playoff chances. Seymour blocked a Ryan Succop 49-yard field goal try at the end of the first half that could have broken a 3-3 tie, then blocked a Succop 49-yarder at the end of the second half that could have given the Chiefs a 16-13 win. The Raiders' special teams coordinator, John Fassel, had the block in the game plan for the week, and instructed linebackers Aaron Curry and Quentin Groves to push Seymour through the Chief line on the two blocks. Worked perfectly. "Even though my hand went up to block them, I can't take all the credit,'' Seymour said. "I have to give a lot to our linebackers for giving me good push and the coaching staff for coming up with the calls to put me in the right position to make plays. That's what we talk about all the time, the coaching staff putting players in position to make plays and when your number is called, making it and that's what happened.''
Coach of the Week
New England assistant head coach/offensive line Dante Scarnecchia. It was amazing the Patriots won Saturday, given the pre- and in-game festivities along the offensive line. New England was down 17-0 at the half to Miami, and Tom Brady (7 of 19) had been sacked three times and chased around the pocket for 30 minutes. Much of the problems were line-related. Left tackle Matt Light hurt his ankle during the pregame warmups; with Sebastian Vollmer down with a back injury. Logan Mankins was shifted to tackle and made the first start of his career there. Donald Thomas made his first career NFL start, at left guard. When Mankins tweaked his knee a few plays into the game, Nate Solder moved from right tackle to left, and Marcus Cannon went in at right tackle. How about that: The Patriots played rookies at left and right tackle throughout the second half ... and Brady went 20 of 27 and put 27 points on the board (while being sacked just once) behind the makeshift line. Credit to Scarnecchia for having neophytes prepared to win a game New England, at halftime, had little business winning.
Goat of the Week
New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez. Not for one play, but for two weeks of not making any. Over the past two must-games, Sanchez has completed 53 percent of his throws, turned the ball over six times, and lost to teams that entered the games with a combined 12-15 record ... by 26 and 15 points. Sanchez, who rarely throws a pass to a receiver perfectly and in stride, has the look of a player whose confidence is unraveling rapidly.
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